Dutch Masters Flower Arranging Demonstration and Lecture

From the announcement in the Winter Newsletter:

Come and join a glorious afternoon at the famous Judith Blacklock Flower School in Knightsbridge, London. Located in a flower filled mews this school is an icon for English floristry. Whilst enjoying tea and coffee, the art historian Andrew Taylor will lecture on the Dutch Masters and their famous floral still lives. Starting with a general overview of why Dutch paintings from the Golden age are so important, how it arose out of Dutch history, commerce, wealth and travel and how it says so much about Dutch society at the time. This is followed by a talk about flower paintings specifically and how these fit into this background and what they tell us about The Netherlands.

The lecture will be followed by a flower demonstration by the renowned Judith Blacklock on how to recreate one of these floral master pieces, whilst sharing her in-depth knowledge of flowers, how to care for them and where best to buy your flowers. At the end of the afternoon you will all be given the opportunity to create a small flower arrangement to take home.

Judith Blacklock is the author of 16 bestselling floristry books and the owner and founder of the Judith Blacklock Flower School in Knightsbridge, London.

After many years as a lawyer, Andrew Taylor changed direction, took an MA in Art History and now works as a freelance lecturer. He leads art and cultural tours in the UK, Continental Europe and New York, giving lectures and gallery talks on a wide range of subjects. He is also involved with lecturing to private art groups and a small arts education charity.

Website: www.judithblacklock.com

From the report in the Spring Newsletter:

After a delicious lunch in the The Alfred Tennyson pub, our group walked to the Judith Blacklock Flower School, located in a nice little courtyard in Knightsbridge. It was a beautiful sunny day and at the entrance, which was fully decorated with flowers, Judith Blacklock herself and art historian Andrew Taylor welcomed us with tea and coffee.

Andrew Taylor started his interesting lecture by referring to an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in 1976 titled “Tot lering en vermaak: betekenissen van Hollandse genrevoorstellingen uit de 17de eeuw”. He thought it would be appropriate to call this lecture: ‘To instruct and delight, an introduction to flower paintings in the Dutch Golden Age’, as he explained that Dutch still-life paintings tell a lot about Dutch life and history.

He continued by showing two paintings: ‘St Elizabeth’s flood’ (c 1421) and the ‘Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede’ (c 1670) by Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682) to illustrate that since the early days the Dutch had to ‘battle’ against water. During the 15th and 16th Century, however, technology started to make it possible to reclaim land. In addition, after the Eighty Year’s War, The Netherlands became an independent republic. Therefore, you can say “The Dutch created their own land: physically and politically”. These two developments brought an economic boom, resulting in among others a big expansion in cities and an increase in food production farming. The painting ‘The young bull’ (1647) by Paulus Potter (1625-1654) started to show this increase in wealth.

Gardening also became a symbol of wealth, though interestingly there are not that many Dutch paintings of historical gardens. Paintings do show that in those gardens each flower was planted in a separate divided space. This might explain the early preference for still life flower arrangements with different individual flower types. Cultivated flower gardens were only for the very rich, so therefore as a symbol of wealth to display at home, a new genre painting was invented by the Dutch: the still-life with flowers. The Flower Pieces paintings of Jan Breughel de Elder’s (1568-1625) are nice early examples, in which flowers are depicted as accurate as possible to try to ‘substitute’ the real flowers.

Another important painter was Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621), who established himself as a leading figure in the fashionable flower-painting genre. His early flower school work typically shows a symmetrical arrangement where the eye is drawn to the most expensive flower. It’s important to know that the artists didn’t have access to arrangements, as many of the flowers don’t bloom at the same time. Instead, they had to paint based on illustrations from flower catalogues created when the flowers were in full bloom. Therefore, you will find that in many a still-life some types of flowers look identical.

By showing us different examples of beautiful famous still-life flower paintings, Andrew pointed out that in general the arrangements consist of too many different types and varieties, that flowers are depicted only two dimensional, the lighting is wrong (each flower in the spotlight), that there is little detail to leaves/foliage and most strikingly that laws of gravity don’t apply!

The Tulip Mania (1636-1637) not only had an economic impact on quite a few individuals, but also changed the moral atmosphere. See Jan Breughel the Younger’s satire painting ‘Allegory of the tulip trade’ (1640). Speculation and showing-off wealth were now considered bad. This criticism was transferred into the later still-life flower genre paintings by adding objects like skulls, clocks, hourglasses and insects to symbolise death, passing time and the fragility of life (vanitas). These symbols had to give the viewer the gloomy ‘memento mori’ message that fortunes can change and everything could all disappear. Jan van Huysum’s (1682-1749) works show this transition well as his early works are typical in Rococo style with bright colours and many flowers, while his later works like Flower Piece (1726) demonstrates that the flowers had to make way for art. The flowers are not the central focus point anymore, but the composition itself and the other objects in the painting.

After Andrew’s very informative lecture, famous florist Judith Blacklock gave us a demonstration of how to make a flower arrangement. While she was explaining and putting the large flower arrangement together, she also shared some very useful tips regarding the ideal height of a vase and how to check the freshness of flowers among others. It was impressive to see how fast she was able to make the arrangement and we appreciated her willingness to share her knowledge based on many years of experience.
With Judith’s encouragement and an ample supply of fresh flowers we were left to make our own flower arrangement, which we could take home as a nice souvenir of a successful ANS event.

The event took place on Friday 29 March in the afternoon.